On The Prowl
News from our NICK MAYS
Our News & Features Editor
Dogs’ and cats’ bodies washed up on beaches
HORRIFIED animal lovers are offering a reward in a bid to discover who is responsible for more than ten dead pets found washed up on beaches in West Dorset.
Seven cats and four dogs are reported to have been found dumped or washed up at Charmouth and West Bay in recent weeks - two of which were in a sack.Uplyme fossil hunter Rosemary Abbott reckons someone is systematically killing the animals and throwing their bodies in the sea.‘I feel this is someone who hates animals - or it could be children doing it - but I really don’t know,’ she said.
Mrs Abbott says she was left angry and distressed after finding several dead cats on Charmouth beach.
‘We saw the first one on February 15, then I saw another and a friend spotted the third. They were in various states of decomposition. Then we heard that a tourist had seen a dead dog on the beach and another dead cat.
‘This Sunday I found another dead cat and picked it up and brought it back to the car park. On Monday another cat was found and on Wednesday yet another - seven now in total.’
Mrs Abbott said the bodies of two Staffordshire Bull terriers were found at West Bay and since then two more dead dogs were reported found in a sack beneath Golden Cap, as though they had been thrown off the cliff.
‘It is awful and so distressing - at the moment I dread going out in case of what I might find,’ she continued. ‘When I spoke to the district council’s environmental health people the lady said the rivers had been swollen recently and the cats may have fallen in and drowned.
‘But there’s no way they would do that - they are far too smart and there are too many. I also contacted the police but they didn’t seem concerned.’
Now Mrs Abbott has contacted the RSPCA who are checking whether any of the animals were microchipped and she says a friend is offering a £250 reward for information leading to the capture of the culprits.
A spokesman for the district council said their environmental health officers had received a call about two dead dogs being washed up on Charmouth beach. But when they went to collect them they had gone - apparently washed back into the sea. A couple of weeks later however the bodies of two Staffordshire Bull Terriers were recovered at West Bay.
‘That’s all we know but we are investigating the reports,’ he added.
Domestic cats rescue rare lynx
DOMESTIC CATS are to provide an unexpected lifeline for the world’s most endangered feline, the Iberian Lynx.
Researchers in Spain discovered that they could inseminate the eggs of domestic cats with the sperm of male Lynx. The breakthrough means they can test the fertility of the male’s sperm and widen the gene pool of the world’s rarest wild cat.
Experts believe that there are only between 100 and 150 Iberian Lynxes alive, due to dwindling habitats and a decline in their natural prey, wild rabbits.
The only two colonies of wild Lynx where breeding pairs have been found are in the Doñana Natural Park and in the Sierra Morena, both in Andalucia, southern Spain.
Lynx are often killed by cars and this accounts for a significant percentage of their declining numbers. Yet ironically, this could also prove to be a factor in their salvation: scientists are to extract sperm from males killed on the roads, and freeze it for later use.
They have been helped by veterinary practices near Madrid, which contributed the ovaries of dead domestic cats. These gave scientists a pool of immature eggs which are then nurtured in laboratories and later fertilised with Lynx sperm.
Scientists can then see how suitable sperm is for impregnating female Lynx. Using domestic cat eggs means researchers do not have to use the eggs from an already endangered species. It also means they do not have to move Lynx from one location to another, avoiding problems with transport and adaptation.
Eduardo Roldan, who led the project at the Superior Scientific Research Council, said: “We know the case of one male Iberian Lynx that has not been able to successfully breed, although lab tests with domestic cat eggs show that he is fertile.
“Cases such as this one can help develop a proper reproduction programme.”
The research will be presented at the Field Biology and Research Conference in Oxford in September.
Another project which researchers hope will save the Iberian Lynx from extinction involves releasing domestic rabbits into the wild as a food supplement in the Doñana natural park.
At present, dwindling numbers of wild rabbits have forced hungry Lynxes to stray from their natural habitat in search of prey.
Francisco Palomares, head of the Lynx project at the Doñana park biological station, hopes this will stop the Lynx from leaving the park – and into the path of passing motorists - to find food.
Mr Palomares said: “They will not eat dead meat, so there is no point in putting out slaughtered rabbits. We will use domestic rabbits and release them into the wild. If there are few rabbits, female [Lynx] cannot eat properly nor feed their cubs properly.”
Scientists believe if Lynx numbers continue to fall at their current rate, they will be extinct in ten years.
They estimate as much as 35 per cent of the remaining population have now left the park in search of their favourite dish.
The Iberian Lynx was once found throughout Spain, Portugal and parts of southern France, with an estimated population at the turn of the century of 100,000. But years of over-hunting and the loss of natural habitat to make way for agriculture caused the population to drop dramatically to just a few thousand by the 1980s.
Blood bank for pets opens
A BLOOD bank specifically for pets opened earlier this week in the UK.
Pet Blood Bank UK (PBBuk) has become the first service of its kind to collect, process, store and supply pet blood products. Supported by the out-of-hours veterinary service Vets Now, the service has been launched following a change in legislation which makes it possible to apply for licensing to bank pet blood products.
PBBuk is a charitable organisation and is based in Loughborough, Leicestershire. Dog owners from all over the UK can now access blood products for their dogs through their veterinary practice, providing them with vital, lifesaving treatment. There are also plans to offer similar service for cats in future.
The ability to carry out blood transfusions is often essential for veterinarians when they are fighting to save the life of a family pet. Like humans, dogs benefit from transfusions during surgery and to treat major traumas and disease.
PBBuk will collect canine blood which will then be processed into various blood products and stored on the premises. The blood products will then be sold to veterinary practices across the UK.
From mid-March, dog-owners living within two hours of PBBuk in Loughborough will be approached to volunteer their pet for donations in a series of ‘blood drives’. These will be held at veterinary practices within a two-hour drive of the PBBuk base, allowing suitable time for blood to be collected, returned to the premises in Loughborough and processed.
* Donating dogs must be between one and eight years, old depending on their breed. They must weigh over 25kg and be in good health. Dogs must never have travelled abroad, must be up to date with vaccinations and must never have received a blood transfusion.
Owners should contact PBBuk on 01509 232222.
New species of big cat discovered
A TYPE of Leopard found on Borneo and originally believed to be related to its mainland cousin is in fact a completely new cat species, the World Wildlife Fund said.
Genetic analysis conducted at the U.S. National Cancer Institute shows that the difference between the two Clouded Leopard species is comparable to the differences between other large cat species like Lions, Tigers, and Jaguars. Scientists believe the new species of Clouded Leopard diverged from the mainland population some 1.4 million years ago.
“Genetic research results clearly indicate that the Clouded Leopards of Borneo and Sumatra should be considered a separate species,” said Dr Stephen O’Brien, Head of the Laboratory of Genomic Diversity, U.S. National Cancer Institute. “DNA tests highlighted around 40 differences between the two species.”
The results of the genetic study are supported by separate research on geographical variation in the Clouded Leopard, based mainly on fur patterns and colouration of skins held in museums and collections.
“The moment we started comparing the skins of the mainland Clouded Leopard and the leopard found on Borneo and Sumatra, it was clear we were comparing two different species,” said Dr Andrew Kitchener, from the Department of Natural Sciences, National Museums Scotland and lead author of the scientific paper that described the new species. “It’s incredible that no one has ever noticed these differences.”
The new Clouded Leopard species is generally darker than the mainland species, has small cloud markings, many distinct spots within the cloud markings, greyer fur, and a double dorsal stripe. Clouded Leopards from the mainland have large ‘cloud’ markings on their skin with fewer, often faint, spots within the cloud markings, and they are lighter in colour, with a tendency toward tawny-collared fur and a partial double dorsal stripe.
Adam Tomasek, head of WWF’s Borneo and Sumatra program quipped: “Who said a leopard can never change its spots? For over a hundred years we have been looking at this animal and never realized it was unique.
“The fact that Borneo’s top predator is now considered a separate species further emphasizes the uniqueness of the island and the importance of conserving the Heart of Borneo.”
Clouded Leopards are the biggest predators on Borneo. Some grow to be as large as a small panther, and have the longest canine teeth relative to body size of any cat. Sumatran tigers are the largest predators on Sumatra.
Between 5,000 and 11,000 Clouded Leopards are estimated to live on Borneo. The total number in Sumatra could be in the range of 3,000 to 7,000 individuals. However, further studies are needed to obtain better population data. Habitat destruction is the cat’s main threat.
The last great forest home of the Bornean Clouded Leopard is the Heart of Borneo, a wild, mountainous region of rainforest the size of Kansas. WWF recently released a report showing that scientists had identified at least 52 new species of animals and plants over the past year on Borneo.
Last month in Bali, Indonesia, the ministers of the three Bornean governments - Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia and Malaysia - signed an historic Declaration to conserve and sustainably manage the Heart of Borneo.